More than 200 investors and companies have called on US state and federal policymakers to protect “the freedom to invest responsibly” as the anti-ESG movement gains momentum.  

In a statement coordinated by Ceres and the We Mean Business Coalition, signatories –  including New York City Office of the Comptroller, New York State Common Retirement Fund, CalSTRS, Franklin Templeton, Generation Investment Management and Patagonia – argued that consideration of material ESG factors is not political or ideological.

“Incorporating these issues into financial decision-making represents good corporate governance, prudent risk management, and smart investment practice,” they said. “We factor financially material considerations, including the impacts of climate change, into our standard investment and risk management decisions, in order to protect our operations and our investment.” 

The statement is the latest salvo in the battle raging over ESG in the US. While the anti-ESG movement in the Republican party stole a march on its opponents with a series of state-level bans, bills and boycotts, Democrats and investors have gradually facilitated a fight back.

Earlier this year, Ceres collaborated with the Sunrise Project and As You Sow on research that modelled the bond market implications for six states looking to implement similar anti-ESG legislation as Texas, which resulted in the boycotting of major financiers.

The report found that the states would have faced up to $708 million in additional costs for their municipal bonds combined. 

Commenting on Thursday’s statement, New York City comptroller Brad Lander said: “As responsible fiduciaries and investors, our goal is to maximise risk-adjusted returns, which requires considering myriad factors that threaten an individual company’s value and the economy as a whole.

“We are witnessing misinformed, misguided and ultimately dangerous efforts to restrict the decision-making of fiduciaries and prevent them from addressing risks to their portfolio that impact current and retired workers, working families and the global economy.” 

Lander is a member of For the Long Term (FTLT), a non-profit that aims to “help public Treasurers leverage the power of their offices to deliver sustainable long-term growth”. The organisation has been ramping up efforts to push back against anti-ESG policymakers and associations across the country.

Earlier this week, President Biden issued his first veto to block a bill that would have prevented retirement plans from considering ESG factors in investment decisions.

In a statement he said: “Retirement plan fiduciaries should be able to consider any factor that maximises financial returns for retirees across the country. That is not controversial – that is common sense.”